The Perennial Issue

At the close of Wednesday, Gary strode into the glasshouse, after an afternoon spent fixing the irrigation on the Hardening Bay, and exclaimed, “this glasshouse is starting to look like it’s meant to”. This summed up the mood with precision. There is a base, minimalist comfort in seeing the stretches of staging stripped to bare sharp sand, like a deconstructed Zen Garden; a sense of space that comes when the climbers are raised to the ground, the winter leaves cut back to within an inch of soil life, the beans and garlic overwintering but barely emerged. But greenhouses are made to be green. Made to be, but not built so: the greening is the creation of the gardeners and plants here, re-embarked on every year. A patient, hard, tender process; small steps forwards and backwards, and in a great leap, we’re here.   The balance has been tipped decisively: after the steady weeks of sowing seeds, and this week’s first episode of Potting Up the World of Chillies, there is now more area on the benches occupied by seedlings than by desert. All the beds, too, are alive: the green manures – phacelia, mustard, clovers – rising tall and floating into flower; the once-poorly endives and rockets pushing out new leaves as fast as our hands can keep pulling them.   These are the days of Lady Bird Spotting, as we will these fierce and pretty predators to appear in the protected growing space, just as the booming aphid population begins to cause plant health problems. With a yelp of joy I spotted a procession of the dragon-like ladybird larvae emerging from the dead, dead wood of an old sunflower stem. Witnessing the principles of a “systems approach” to natural pest management manifested, first hand, doesn’t often happen: for one, wildlife tends to shake off our surveillance before carrying out its business; for another, the same wildlife “doesn’t always read the books”, as Jonny once remarked.

Honeybee on Gage Blossom, Outside Hawkwood Glasshouse, 11 April 02015 Photo: Martin Sla

Honeybee on Gage Blossom, Outside Hawkwood Glasshouse, 11 April 02015 Photo: Martin Slavin

Even the garden outside is starting to look not too shabby. The gage flowers have succeeded the peach blossoms to perfection – they, too, must have got the memo this time – and the Rhubarb, Three Cornered Leek, Ice Plant, Chives and Fennel are full of colour and vigour. All of these plants are perennials, and already being harvested twice weekly, well before the first flush of weeds or the planting out of our annual crops. April brings to sharp focus the importance, for body and soul, of combining annuals and perennials in the garden. This is a theme that has emerged with the latest crop of City & Guilds Level Two graduands, as we reach the finale of the academic horticultural calendar.   And this week, we finally, after much caution, introduce perennial plantings into our inner realm, the glasshouse: kiwis, clematis, chow chow, figs, lemon grass, lemon and licorice, are being brought in as “specimen exotics”. They will hopefully soften the firm functionality of the new seating area, transforming it from “conservatory” to “Kiwi Corridor” as Jen, our “in-house designer” is dubbing it. And they’ll provide a living structure, a skeleton of our protected garden that otherwise all but vanishes, come winter time. The picked bones of a huge pulsing organism that is just now bursting into being.